PRIMARY PREVIEW: 5 Republican races to watch for the Colo. legislature

State Rep. Judy Reyher, a Swink Republican. She is running for her first full term in the House. (judyhd47.com)

There are 18 contested races for Colorado legislative seats in the June primary. These are CoPo’s picks for the top five Republican races to watch. (And check back with ColoradoPolitics.com at lunchtime for the top races for Democrats.)

Senate district 2: Clear Creek, El Paso, Fremont, Park and Teller counties.

Why this race matters: The seat held by current Senate President Kevin Grantham of Cañon City is up for grabs this year because Grantham is term-limited.

Voter registration heavily favors the winner on the Republican side. As of April 2018, active Republican voters number more than 39,000; unaffiliated voters number more than 32,000 and Democrats lag far behind with just over 17,000 active voters.

On the Republican side, the candidates are Dennis Hisey and Stephanie Luck; the two Democrats running are Beth Hart and Dennis Obduskey. Hisey leads all candidates in fundraising with $25,455 raised and has backing from Colorado Springs power players such as former Regent Kyle Hybl and former state Sens. Keith King and Ed Jones.

Luck is backed by former state Sen. David Schultheis but she’s been her campaigns biggest funder so far. She’s take in more than $12,000.

Four House Republican incumbents have earned themselves primary challengers. They include:

House District 21: southern Colorado Springs. Rep. Lois Landgraf represents this district that includes Fort Carson and the towns of Fountain and Security-Widefield.

She’s facing Raymond Garcia, a late entrant to the race who filed his candidacy on March 12. Garcia has received campaign contributions from former U.S. Senate candidate Jerry Natividad and Dudley Brown, who runs Rocky Mountain Gun Owners. The pair contributed $400 of the $750 Garcia has raised, but he didn’t receive a single contribution between May 2 and May 30.

Why this race matters: This is Garcia’s third bid for the state House; previously, he ran against Democratic Rep. Susan Lontine for a seat representing southwest Denver. Landgraf is backed by Hybl and businessman Jake Jabs, owner of American Furniture Warehouse. More than half of the $12,000 she’s raised for the 2018 election (as of May 30) has come from political action committees and/or Capitol lobbyists.

Politically, the district favors the Republican primary winner, but unaffiliated voters are starting to surge. There are 14,155 active unaffiliated voters in the district, compared to 12,697 Republicans and 8,489 Democratic voters. Unaffiliated voter numbers have seen the only growth in the district in the past two years. Numbers for Republican and Democratic voters have both declined slightly since 2016.

House District 47: rural Pueblo County, Fremont and Otero counties

Why this race matters: First-year incumbent Rep. Judy Reyher of Swink is running for her first full term in the House, after being appointed to the seat last December in a contest marred by controversy. She’s been criticized for racially charged comments she either authored or supported on social media, including one that called African Americans “hatred filled beings.”

Reyher ‘s primary challenger is Don Bendell of Florence. Bendell and Reyher are fairly close in fundraising, with Reyher holding a slight lead as of May 30. She’s received campaign donations from former lawmakers Greg Brophy and Frank McNulty. Her most recent report shows two donations of $400, including one from Jace Ratzlaff, a member of the vacancy committee that appointed Reyher and husband of her predecessor, former Rep. Clarice Navarro-Ratzlaff.

The district is as evenly split as they come, with just over 15,000 each Democrat, Republicans and unaffiliated active voters. It has been represented by Republicans since 2010, and by Democrat Buffie McFayden for eight years before that.

House District 56: Incumbent Republican Phil Covarrubias of Henderson is in a rematch of his 2016 contest with former Arapahoe County Commissioner Rod Bockenfeld of Watkins.

Bockenfeld holds the lead so far in fundraising, with $7,100 raised ($5,000 from his own pocket) and another $11,000 on hand from his 2016 bid. Covarrubias’ contributions of $1,575 have so far come solely from political action committees or lobbyists. Bockenfeld is seen as a more traditional Republican and Covarrubias is viewed as more conservative.

Why this race matters: Covarrubias was criticized last year when he “repeatedly appeared to defend the use of internment camps for Japanese Americans in World War II in a House floor debate. Covarrubias said the remarks were misinterpreted but he later apologized.

Voter registration in this district is also shifting in favor of unaffiliated voters, with 13,063 active voters. That said, the district favors whoever wins the Republican primary. Republicans have 12,649 active voters with Democrats lagging behind at 8,818.

Senate District 7: Mesa County, including Grand Junction

Why this race matters: Sen. Ray Scott is the only Senate incumbent with a primary challenge. He faces Rep. Dan Thurlow in a contest viewed as between Scott from the right and Thurlow as the centrist. Thurlow has taken on weighty issues from his seat in the House that back up his centrist views. He was one of only two House Republicans to vote for the “red flag” gun bill as well as support reauthorization of the state civil rights division and commission.

Scott successfully fought for reforms to the state’s energy office for two years running that included changing its mission from renewable energy to “all of the above” energy resources. But Scott has also taken heat recently for double-dipping: charging legislative expenses to both his campaign committee and for reimbursement from the General Assembly to the tune of more than $1,000. Scott later reimbursed his campaign committee for some of those charges but only after being questioned about them by the Daily Sentinel.

In the fundraising contest, Scott had $20,000 left from his previous race, coupled with more than $31,000 in donations. He leads with $51,142 to Thurlow’s $45,733.

Thurlow doesn’t use his campaign finance account to pay for legislative expenses or expenses related to running his House office, although that’s allowed under state law. The one notable expense is a $148 payment in 2017 to Campaign Integrity Watchdog, the Matt Arnold-run organization that ferrets out campaign finance shenanigans. Arnold said the payment was to reimburse Watchdog for court fees related to 2016 campaign finance violations Thurlow committed and in which he was found guilty. After losing the court case, Thurlow sponsored a bill in the 2017 session, signed into law, to give lawmakers 15 days to correct irregularities in campaign finance reports.

There’s one other comparison between the two that’s worth mentioning: Thurlow was one of 16 House Republicans to vote for the expulsion of former Rep. Steve Lebsock in March. Scott was the only Senate Republican to vote for the expulsion of fellow Republican Sen. Randy Baumgardner a month later, a move seen primarily as a political counterbalance to Thurlow’s vote.

This is a solidly-Republican district, where active Republican voters number more than 39,000. there are 32,152 active unaffiliated voters and 16,951 Democratic voters, as of April 2018.

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